I always knew that my days playing football would come to an end. I just didn’t think it would be this soon. I was absolutely plagued with injuries last season. Before game one even kicked off, I took a knock to the side of my knee that resulted in the lower half of my left leg turning into one gigantic bruise. (I have pictures somewhere it’s actually kinda cool) What wasn’t cool however, was not being able to walk properly for three weeks.
That injury had a butterfly effect and from then on, every game seemed to result in a new or recurring niggle. It was like my body was telling me that it was time to hang it up.
And so, I did. I played in a few flag games for the craic, and then for the first time in god knows how long I had nothing to do on Sundays. And it was unreal. No more cold winter mornings, extra sleep, and no more waking up on Mondays feeling like I’d been run over by a car (or a D Lineman).
I’d lost my passion for playing. I’d lost the fire and desire and the willingness to put myself through contact sessions. Maybe it was self-preservation finally kicking in, or maybe ten years of playing had finally caught up with me. Either way, I knew it was time to take a break from football.
But now I’m not so sure. Both the NFL and College seasons are drawing to a close, and in less than two months there’s going to be a massive football shaped hole in my life. It’s all well and good having an extra couple of hours to myself every weekend but what the hell am I going to do on Sundays when there’s no football to watch on TV?
So TLDR: I’m conflicted. For ten years I lived and breathed football. And I still do, maybe just to a lesser extent. I know that with time the lingering injuries that are holding me back mentally will heal and I’ll physically be ready to play again. But I just don’t know If I want to. Is that desire to kit up still there? I feel like I have at least a few years left in me, but maybe it’s better to get out now with minimal wear and tear. And if my hearts not in it then what’s the point?
A year ago, we put together a list of the most terrifying players in the NFL, and a lot of people were not happy with our choices. So, this spooky season we decided to take another crack at it. But this time around, we’re going to include players from all eras of the NFL. It’s no coincidence that this list is dominated by defenders, as they are usually the ones doing the scaring! Read on if you dare…
The Purple People Eaters
The name says it all really, doesn’t it? Minnesota’s Defensive Line of the 1960’s/1970’s was notorious for terrorizing the Quarterback, and just causing carnage in general. In 1969, the People Eaters contributed to 49 sacks! Offenses today should be thankful that these monsters are no longer haunting the NFL!
2. The Steel Curtain
Featuring the notorious “Mean” Joe Greene, the Steel Curtain was the dominate defensive force in football during the 70’s. Quarterbacks these days would run in terror if they saw the Steel Curtain coming after them!
3. JJ Watt
We couldn’t write about the scariest players in football without mentioning this beast! I mean just look at that face. Who in their right mind wouldn’t scream and run in fear if they saw that coming from them. The man is literally covered in his own blood but is still hellbent on wreaking havoc.
4. Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis makes the list again this year. Lewis is arguably one of the most threatening players to ever take the field. Despite being on the short side for a Linebacker, Lewis took tremendous pleasure in tracking down Running Backs and making them pay.
5. Spider Facemask
Okay so this isn’t technically a player but it’s still pretty spooky! I have a dee rooted fear of spiders, and I’m sure there are more than a few NFL players who share my fear and wouldn’t be too pleased to see this Halloween themed helmet coming at them!
Yesterday it was announced that Big 10 conference rivals University of Nebraska Cornhuskers and University of Illinois Fighting Illini will face off in Dublin in 2021, as the second of five college football games taking place in Ireland over 5 years. For college football aficionados here, this revelation may be slightly lacking in the firepower we expected. While both teams boast historically successful football programs, they do not boast the recent success that previous visitors such as Penn State and Notre Dame do. However, I will say this; When Boston College and Georgia Tech were announced as the 2016 game, I was a little bit underwhelmed. Two fairly average ACC teams didn’t offer a lot to get excited about. But boy was I wrong. Both sides put on a highly competitive performance in subpar conditions and gave native spectators and travelling fans alike a decent show. (still glad I didn’t pay for my tickets though!) So, while the more hardcore Irish college football fan may have been a bit ‘meh’ about yesterday’s announcement, this matchup will be more than satisfactory for the newly initiated and of course, the fans making the trip.
My own blatant college football snobbery aside, this showdown does have the potential to be a half decent game. Nebraska are currently third in the Big 10 West with a record of 4-3, with 2 of those losses coming against ranked opponents Minnesota and Ohio State. Their 2019 meeting with Illinois ended in a 42-38 victory for the ‘Huskers and pending the result of next years game, the 2021 edition could be a particularly fiery addition to the series!
The Fighting Illini have not faired as well so far this season, and currently sit at 2-4 overall. But perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Fighting Illini program is the man at the helm: none other than Lovie Smith. The former NFL head coach took over in 2016, and now in his 3rd season has given the Illinois football program a much needed boost. If Smith can continue to improve the previously beleaguered football team then this 2021 encounter could just be one of the Big 10’s Games of the Season!
College Football star power aside, the 2021 College Football Classic features two decent enough teams to inspire faith that the plan to bring 5 games to Ireland in 5 years hasn’t overreached it’s ambition. These are two sides that have never played here, who will bring with them two sets of fans and alumni that quite likely have never set foot on our little island before. And that is the real goal of this game and all the games to come. To put Ireland on the map as an International home for College Football.
On Saturday September 14th, Dublin saw off a brave Kerry effort to claim their 5th All Ireland title in a row. The display of total dominance and self belief put on by the Dubs is hard not to compare to a certain NFL franchise. Yes that’s right folks, I’m talking about the New England Patriots. New England have become annual favorites to raise the Lombardi, and rightfully so. Since 2008, the Pats have appeared in 6 championship games, claiming 3 of those. It’s gotten so ridiculous at this stage that even 2 weeks into the 2019 season, and another Patriots Super Bowl appearance is already being predicted. And unless something drastic happens with the structure of the GAA, (or if another county can find some sort of Dean Rock Kryptonite) the boys in blue are almost a shoe in for a 6th Sam Maguire in a years time.
Perhaps the most common trait that these two storied organizations share is being absolutely despised outside of their own fan bases. It could be that I’m biased, but whenever either team is playing, I almost always side with their opponent. And I think the reason for this is that most (not all mind you) supporters display a certain type of arrogance whenever either team is playing. Now maybe they’ve earned this right – both teams are after all the undisputed best in their respective codes, but there is no need to be downright cocky about it. Patriots and Dublin fans alike show a blind belief and refuse to accept that there is even the smallest chance they will lose. Additionally, they both seem to have attracted an awful lot of bandwagon supporters over recent years. I don’t know about you, but I have definitely noticed an influx of Dublin GAA and Tom Brady jerseys about the place.
The Dublin footballers and the Patriots both happen to have
wiley coach at the helm, undoubtedly a major factor in their joint success.
Bill Belichick and Jim Gavin are renowned for their methodical preparation and
“no bullshit’ approach. Belichick is
famous for refusing to allow a blizzard to interfere with his practice
schedule, informing players they would be expected to train regardless of the
snow. Gavin, a former Air Corps Pilot and Flight Instructor, applies his
military expertise and precision to his training sessions. And it shows. Dublin’s
playing style under him has been almost surgical, patiently picking apart their
opponents with precision passing and waiting for just the right moment to
launch a strike.
Jim and Bill also share somewhat of a dispassionate relationship with the media. Bill’s responses to questions from members of the press are typically terse and god help you if you ask him something not directly related to the game at hand. And let’s not forget when Jim refused to speak to RTE in retaliation to not being provided with video footage of his footballers. Taking no prisoners whatsoever.
By the way, have you ever seen either of them smile during a game? Didn’t think so. In fact, the only time the two men smile is when they win big. Like Super Bowl or Sam Maguire big.
We can complain all want about the unrelenting supremacy of both teams, but we must acquiesce to the fact that they are the standard to which all challengers must reach before even dreaming of taking their place. Some have come close – The LA rams stilted the Patriots offense to a 13-3 victory in February, but ultimately they couldn’t find the firepower to finish the job. Similarly, Dublin needed two go’s to kill off Kerry in this years All Ireland. While the would be de-throners fell short, it can only be a matter of time before either sport becomes competitive once more.
College Ball is finally back! With 5 college football games taking place in Ireland from 2020 onwards, now is the time to immerse yourself in NCAA action. It is now easier than ever to watch college football in Ireland, and we’ve complied a list of how you can get your college ball fix every weekend!
BT Sports ESPN
Remember the good old days of ESPN America on Sky Sports? 12 glorious hours of uninterrupted College Football, book ended by College Game Day. Well those days are sadly over and now if you want to watch football on your TV, you’re going to have to pay up. Fortunately, BT Sports college football offering is quite decent and they will normally have the marquee match ups, as well as Bowl games, Playoffs and the National Championship Game!
The official ESPN player is essentially the College Football Version of Game Pass and gives you access to pretty much any game that ESPN has the broadcast rights for. With the ESPN player you can stream all kinds of American College sports as well as watching highlights and getting full game recaps. The ESPN player is better value if you are a fan of College Football rather than one team in particular, as your teams game mightn’t always be shown.
3. Streaming sites
Let me begin here by saying that in no shape or form do we
condone illegal streaming sites. However, needs must and when it comes to
getting your fill of college football, you gotta do what you gotta do! First
Row Sports is our go to for streaming college football games, and if you have
an Android device, apps such as Mobdro should do the trick as well. Streams can
be a bit hit or miss in terms of quality and speed and your patience will
probably be tested.
If you’ve been an American football for one year or ten,
then College Football is definitely worth getting in to. Its popularity is growing exponentially both
here in Ireland and all over Europe. There’s more passion, more atmosphere and
more to lose in College games than there is in the pro’s, and with Ireland
becoming the home of College Football on this side of the Atlantic, there
really isn’t a better time than now to get involved!
With the return of real life football only a matter of weeks away we thought it would be an appropriate time to pick some of our favourite alternative football movies. These flicks mightn’t have been as commercially successful as the likes of The Longest Yard & Co but there are some gems in here that are definitely worth a watch! What are your favourite football movies? Let us know in the comments!
My All American
My All American tells the true story of a high school Safety who’s wish to play for the legendary Coach Darrell Royal was temporarily granted, only to be cruelly cut short. Such was the impression that Freddy Steinmark made on his Coach that he was remembered even in the Coaches later days. A combination of great storytelling and plenty of action scenes make this a must see for any football fan.
Another true story, this time of the remarkable success of Brandon Burlsworth who despite being told he had no chance of playing D1 Football, walked on at the University of Arkansas and was eventually named an All American and a 3rd round draft pick. The movie is primarily set during his memorial service, with flashbacks to his life and career. It’s unique in the fact that the protagonist is in fact his brother, dealing with the grief of his loss.
If you loved Friday Night Lights, then chances are you’re going to enjoy Varsity Blues as well. A classic coming of age tale set in small town America, Varsity Blues depicts the trials and tribulations of the West Canaan Coyotes Football Team and how they deal with a threating head coach. The ultimate message is that there is more to life than football and as important as the sport may seem right now, it’s not going to be forever!
Despite being a complete Box office bust, Draft Day has become something of a cult classic. Set during the run up to and throughout the NFL Draft, this movie presents a (heavily fictionalized) scenario where the Cleveland Browns are successful and are plotting how to spend the top draft picks they control. If you’re comfortable with the complete suspension of disbelief and with the notion of Kevin Costner as the GM of a football franchise then there’s no harm in giving this one a whirl. And remember: “Vontae Mack no matter what!”
The College Football season is just around the corner and
with 5 games taking place in Ireland over the next few years, now is the
perfect time to choose a college football team to follow!
The question is, what college team is the best one to
follow? Well, that depends. There are a number of important factors to consider
when selecting your college football team. Firstly and most importantly, can
they win? Let’s face it, there’s no point in staying up till 3 am every Sunday
morning to watch your team lose. If you’re going to sacrifice sleep to watch
football, it has to be worth it. Secondly, does that team have a good
reputation? If the coach is being investigated for something sketchy or
underhand then maybe it isn’t the best idea to start supporting them. And
finally – is their jersey nice? As shallow as it might sound, if your going buy
their merch, you have to like how it looks.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the
best college football teams to jump onboard with right now.
The Alabama Crimson Tide are without a doubt the best pound for pound college football team over the past 10 years. In the past 5 years alone they have appeared in 4 National Championship games, winning two of those. They always recruit the top players and have an evil genius as their coach. So if you want a team that wins, go with Bama! Although everyone will probably hate you for it.
Clemson football are destined to be the next number one team in America, a fate they sealed by hammering their rivals Alabama in this years Championship game. The Tigers have a cool Coach, a monstrous Defensive Line and a Quarterback that will be playing on Sundays in the next two years. This is a bandwagon you definitely want to jump on!
3. Notre Dame
I’ll try to be as unbiased here as possible – but for me when I first got into college football, following the “Fighting Irish” was a no brainer! Not only are they once again emerging as a perennial contender for the national championship, but their mascot is a fecking Leprechaun! And if you find the Irish shtick to be offensive, then you don’t have any sense of humour. Notre Dame are on the come up in a big way and once their recruiting improves, expect them to be in the final on a regular basis.
While they mightn’t have won much in recent years, the
combination of ever changing uniforms and their adorable Duck mascot makes Oregon
a solid team to support. Oregon’s jersey’s are produced by Nike and are usually
pretty slick. They also occasionally produce talented footballers. For example,
you may have heard of a guy called Marcus Mariota? The Ducks have been down on
their luck in recent years but don’t be surprised if they splash back onto the
scene this season.
History was made in London on July 2nd as 150 kids battled it out to become part of the first class at the NFL’s London Academy. The ground-breaking institute is the first of its kind outside of the US and will give select student athletes the opportunity to combine life skills with intensive sport training under full time coaches. Upon graduation, the students will not only have the chance to pursue pathways into employment and further education but also the chance to play for an NCAA college team in the USA. The players will be coached by British American Football legend Tony Allen who previously coached the London Warriors.
The try-out took place in Tottenham Hotspurs new stadium (which has been recently fitted specifically for NFL games) and was attended by current NFL players JuJu Smith Schuster and London native Efe Obada. Obada and Smith Schuster were both very impressed with the “Stadium Showcase” particularly by the talent and passion for the sport that was on display. Obada especially, knows how valuable any opportunity to play in the NFL can be. Obada played for the London Warriors before getting his shot to make the jump to the pro’s. He didn’t have this resource at his disposal.
So who can join the NFL’s London Academy? Well, according to their website they are looking for “16-18 year old talented American Football players, cross over athletes or those who have yet to play the sport”. Basically, if you haven’t turned 18 yet and are athletically inclined with an interest in the NFL you have what they’re looking for. Unfortunately, the age limit rules myself and probably all of our readers out as well! It seems that I’ll have to keep waiting for my chance to finally make it in the NFL.
Despite my disappointment at
being ruled out, I think the launch of a dedicated NFL UK education centre is major
indication of the growth of the game in Europe. It also presents a huge chance
for young talented Irish players. At the moment the furthest you can go in Ireland
is the National Team, which in itself a huge honour. But imagine being able to
take your skills and love for the game to another level altogether. Imagine
playing College Football.
If you think you have what it
takes then head over to www.nflacademy.com/whowerelookingfor
and register. And who knows, you could be the next Irish man to be playing College
In any aspect of life, taking a step up is always tough. A
new challenge will always add to the physical and mental strains being put on
you. This is particularly true in sport. When a team is promoted to a higher
division it can take a while for the players to adjust to all aspects of
playing at that higher level. If you’re going to be playing with the big boys,
then you’re going to have to put in the work.
It starts in the gym. Like it or not, strength and
conditioning are going to play an integral part in your success at the next
level. You don’t need to be jacked, but you need to have the durability and
explosiveness to compete with the guys you’ll be playing against. Becoming
stronger should also help you to avoid the unfortunate injuries that are part
and parcel of playing American Football.
But playing American football out of your comfort zone is more than big muscles and fast 40’s. It’s as much a mental thing as it is physical. You need to have faith and belief like never before. If a game isn’t going the way you had hoped the worst thing you can do is let your head drop. Becoming a student of the game will also help immensely. Get your head into game tape and learn about your opponent. What are their tendencies? How often to they blitz? Having even the slightest advantage over the other guy will go a long way. When you line up and you already know what the guy across from you is going to do, your chances of beating him have doubled.
Both the talent of players and the standard of play in a
higher division is naturally going to be higher, so It’s up to you to put in
the necessary work that will be required to compete. I’ve played at all levels of competitive
American Football in Ireland and in a lot of cases there is a massive gulf
between teams playing in the top division and those in the lower leagues. And
realistically, it should not be that hard for teams playing in IAFL1 or 2 to make
the jump. It will take consistency, it will take dedication and it will take
sacrifice. But if you love this sport as much as I do, it will be worth it.
If you want to win trophies and you want to play with the
big boys then you better up your game.
The Notre Dame mascot is one of the most iconic in sport. On
game day, the spirit of the ‘Fighting Irish” is brought to life by the Cheer Squad,
in particular those select few who don the green blazer and bowler to become
the Leprechaun. Notre Dame recently announced three new mascots and one of
those fortunate enough to have earned this honour, is Conal Fagan. Conal hails
from Derry, in the North of Ireland and is the first native Irishman to take on
the mantle of the Notre Dame Leprechaun.
But how does a kid from Ireland end up as Notre Dame’s most recognisable
representative? We caught up with Conal and he told us all about his amazing
journey from St Columb’s College in Derry to a scholarship studying Political
Science and Peace Studies in South Bend.
So how just did Conal end up at Notre Dame?
“Two kids from my school had gone to study in the US before
me, so they really inspired me to look into it. “ While still in school, Conal
began applying for the Sutton Trust, a program which helps youngsters from low
and middle income families apply to Colleges in the states. “The process for
applying to US colleges is a lot more holistic and denser than applying in the
UK or Ireland so it’s not really something you do half-heartedly. As soon as I
put my mind to it, I knew that the US was where I needed to be.” As part of the
Sutton Trust program, Conal was flown to the US to experience first-hand what
college life was like in the States. After months of research and preparation,
Conal’s decision came down to either Notre Dame or University of North
Carolina. “I’m confident I made the right choice!”
What was the draw of
For Conal, it was vital that he ended up in a place where he would feel right at home, and where he would be part of a community. “A word that really resonates with people here is ‘family’ – no matter when you graduated, if you meet a fellow alum there’s an instant connection.” The Notre Dame family has a global reach, even as far as South Africa, which Conal found out while coaching soccer in the townships as a volunteer last summer. A family of Notre Dame Fans spotted the ND hoodie he was wearing and instantly recognised him as one of their own. It was then that it really hit home for Conal how powerful and influential the ND brand is around the world. “One of the hardest things to explain back home is just how influential and integral Alumni are.”
to being a lifelong member of such a powerful graduate network, the
opportunities offered to students at Notre Dame is absolutely “crazy”. From
getting to travel around the world for research to meeting some of the most
promising young athletes, there’s so much to do. The driving factor for moving
abroad to study is summed up by Conal as a desire for self-growth, and to defy
the norm. “One of the biggest reasons why I decided to move to the US was that
I wanted to push myself outside of what was comfortable. And I really haven’t
looked back since”.
Now to the burning question we all have, how the hell did Conal end up on the Notre Dame Cheerleading squad? Well, it all started with a Notre Dame Onesie. That onesie became his attire for every basketball game he attended, and at every game Conal would be courtside leading the fans in their chants. “ Going to the Brandywell ( the home ground of Derry City FC) to see Derry play, I used to sit in the ‘Jungle’ – so I had good experience of being noisy!” But Conal wanted to do more at games than just sit in the crowd. He wanted to be a bigger part of the experience. And joining the cheer squad was the best way to do this. “I honestly think the cheerleaders were confused as to how I was so energetic at the games! I had a friend on the squad and when she heard me discussing the possibility of joining, she gave me the push that I needed. It’s been such an incredible experience so far!”
What’s it like being the mascot and representing the Notre Dame spirit? “I can’t emphasise enough how amazing the experience has been” Conal’s friends initially thought it would be hilarious if someone from Ireland auditioned for the role of the leprechaun, but once he began to realise what exactly the position meant and the opportunities that came with it, it was simply too good for him to turn down. Because mascots aren’t really a thing in Ireland, at first it was quite difficult for Conal to convey the significance of the role, but one he started to appear on TV and on social media people began to grasp the idea a little better.
“Putting on the suit honestly makes you feel like a
superhero. When you adopt this persona, it represents more than you can ever
The first few weeks of being the mascot were quite
overwhelming for Conal as he adjusted to being bombarded for photograph
requests as well as being constantly on the go to events, games and other
appearances. But no matter how hectic the schedule, for Conal “..The benefits
will always outweigh the drawbacks.”
“Pulling on that jersey (in my case a suit) is one of the
best feelings. It’s the stuff dreams are made of”.
As Cheerleading isn’t
really a thing here in Ireland, can you tell us how big part of University
sports culture it is in the States?
“A lot of people’s perceptions of cheerleading are based on
what they see in movies, and to be honest, it couldn’t be further from the
truth. I think most people imagine that cheerleading involves running around in
a leotard waving pom- poms! In reality, I get to throw people in the air and do
some really insane stunts, none of which I ever thought I could do! It’s a
super dangerous sport that requires a huge amount of strength, technique and
focus.” Cheerleaders in America are full time athletes, who have to train four
times a week as well as lifting twice a week. But the reward for all the hard
work is getting to run out in front of 80,000 people at home football games as
well as the millions watching on TV at home. “I don’t think I could have ever
pictured this as a kid back home!”
Becoming the face of the Fighting Irish cheer squad wasn’t
Fagan’s first brush with Athletics. In fact, he had previously been part of the
Notre Dame Men’s Soccer programme! Before he came to South Bend, he was already
playing soccer at a high level having made appearances for both the Northern
Ireland U15/16 team as well as Derry City’s U17/19 team. Fagan had already considered playing in a US
college, but didn’t want soccer to define his university experience. An email
from a highly respected coach encouraging him to give it a shot, however, made
his decision a lot more straightforward. And although he did not ultimately
make an appearance for the team, working with some of the best players and
coaches in the country undoubtedly gave him a strong start and a competitive
edge to his time in Notre Dame.
As Conal gears up for the 2019/2020 season, his main goal on
the field is to learn how to do a flip! “It’s something I’ve always wanted to
learn to do but never really been able to focus the time on so I feel that it’s
the perfect time to take advantage.” Off the field, a summer internship in
Australia awaits where he’ll be working with Paralympians and Disabled
Athletes. A flat out but very rewarding
year awaits him! Best of luck Conal and thanks for taking the time to talk to